Amidst the horror of recent news stories, one Sunday newspaper’s headline came as a welcome relief. The story was good news. But more than just being good news, it was a story about the success of a campaign which churches have played a vital role in. “Pay rise for 60,000 workers after surge in firms signing up to living wage” said the headline. It was the opening salvo it what has, so far, been a week of overwhelmingly positive coverage for the Living Wage. It’s no coincidence that this is Living Wage Week – in fact the Mayor of London visited both a small coffee shop and the glamourous stage of Google’s HQ to announce the new rate for the Living Wage - £9.15 per hour in London and £7.85 outside the capital.
The Observer article contained details of how Barclays, Goldman Sachs and ITV now pay the Living Wage, but the real story came in another article elsewhere in the paper. “In the mid-1990s, a group of 15 trade unionists and community activists, some from faith groups, met in Limehouse in east London” said the story. But that underplays the reality. Since that meeting, and the formal beginning of the Living Wage campaign in 2001, faith groups and specifically churches have been the driving force behind it.
This should of course, be no surprise. The modern concept of a Living Wage was first brought into the mainstream by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 (his Papal Encyclical Rerum Novarum is a fundamental building block of Catholic Social Teaching). But of course the concept goes back much further. Numerous Biblical stories tell of the folly of employers not paying workers enough to live on.
James 5 1-4 says, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”
So while politicians, big companies and others now begin to extol the virtues of the Living Wage, it’s worth remembering that Christians have been faithfully campaigning for many years to make this happen. In the UK, the primary vehicle for this has been Citizens UK – the Community Organising alliance which is now made up of over 300 civil society institutions. Half of those groups are churches – from Salvation Army to Quakers, Roman Catholics to Pentecostals, and many Anglicans too! It’s clear that Community Organising is one of the most significant social movements in which Christians are engaged in 21st Century Britain.
Wages aren’t the only issue on which these churches campaign, either. Fairer rules in the asylum system, more ethical banking, better social housing, safer streets and many other issues are also on the agenda – especially in the run up to the next General Election.
In light of these exciting developments, Fulcrum is keen to help other churches engage with community organising and learn how we might help to grow God’s Kingdom using some of the same tools.
So, with that in mind, our next Pivot^Point event is looking at just that. Canon Dr Angus Ritchie is the Director of the Centre for Theology & Community and has been involved in the Living Wage Campaign since its earliest days. He’ll give a theological framework of community organising and some examples of churches taking action for the common good. Caitlin Burbridge is a Community Organiser with Citizens UK in Hackney – she will share stories of the churches she’s working with and the ways in which they’re transforming their communities. There’ll also be time for questions. The event takes place on Wed 12th November at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green at 7.30 (for 8pm). All you need to do to join us is click this link and register for free!
Andy’s a writer and broadcaster and works for the Centre for Theology and Community in London’s East End.